Reaching Out

I know when to ask for help; I do it all the time. I might have crazy ideas, but often I don’t have the answers. Ideas are very different from answers. Answers are where ideas are turned into practices that then make something real. And I had no idea how to turn the idea of this innovation class into a reality.

But I knew people to ask. So I called up Derek, who leads education initiatives for SparkFun, an open-source circuit board manufacturer based in Boulder, Colorado. Could he work with Patrick to put together a six-week curriculum to introduce systems thinking to students? He agreed and off he went.

Then I called Don, known for thinking in new ways about learning. Don was a master teacher for the Lemelson-MIT Program, a joint venture between the Lemelson Foundation and MIT to support the development of young inventors around the country. He also was the one who opened my eyes to the potential of creating empowered learning communities in classrooms.

On my first visit with Don, I walked into a drafting class he was teaching at Hillsboro High. He had a vast classroom space, filled with about sixty students. I found Don and we started chatting, looking out over this sea of students. He started explaining to me that there were five levels of drafting being taught simultaneously in this class period, from intro to advanced.

All of the students were working independently, focused and engaged. Occasionally a student would come up to him with a question. He would gently direct them to another student who could help them, and then returned to our conversation. This happened several times that period. Sixty students were clearly learning, while the teacher was standing along the wall, chatting quietly with a visitor.

He had created a self-managing learning community using an online curriculum that he had developed. It was amazing.

Don was also a farmer. His family's farm was just down the road from Dayton. His parents, in their eighties, were still working that farm and he was helping them out on the weekends, even though he was nearing his own retirement. I knew we could count on him.

“Lemelson-MIT has a curriculum for an after-school class that helps students develop design thinking,” he explained, when I reached out to him for help with the i3 Center. He would contact them to see if they might be willing to pilot this curriculum for an in-school class. This would be the first time in the country they had done this. They agreed. I connected him with Patrick, and off they went, building the third unit of this class, focused on design thinking.

We now had an Innovations class.

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